Child Advocacy Center in Worthington plans to open by December 1

WORTHINGTON – A much-needed child advocacy center (CAC) is being developed in Worthington and the hope is to have it available for use by early December.

The Worthington City Council this week heard a presentation regarding the CAC, which is being developed through a grant received by the Southwest Crisis Center (SWCC). Dulce Willardson, program manager of the CAC, provided an overview on the mission ad purpose of the center this week, along with input from SWCC Executive Director Sara Wahl and Worthington Police Captain Nate Grimmius.

Currently, when an incident regarding the abuse of a child results in a forensic interview, the child must be transported to Child’s Voice in Sioux Falls, SD. Coordinating that interview, transportation and the family’s involvement can sometimes take weeks, and law enforcement isn’t always available to attend due to responsibilities in their jurisdiction. Taking the child to Sioux Falls can also increase the trauma a child is experiencing.

According to Grimmius, the Worthington Police Department is the second-leading referral agency at Child’s Voice. Having a CAC in Worthington will be a huge benefit to local law enforcement, he said.

The CAC will be housed at the Worthington office of the SWCC for the time being. Construction of a sound-proof room with recording equipment and an office that will allow for viewing of the forensic interview is beginning within days.

The forensic interviews will be done by trained professionals, including Willardson. There is a special model to the interview with open questions. Other agency representatives are able to sit in another room where a child cannot see them, and the victim only needs to be questioned once, rather than several times by multiple agencies.

The CAC will take referrals from law enforcement and child protective services. A child may disclose physical or sexual abuse to any number of people, depending on where their trust lies. Teachers, medical professionals, family services staff and others are mandated reporters, and are required by law to inform law enforcement or child protection if a child discloses abuse.

The hope is that eventually the CAC can have a site of its own, with staff and a bigger budget. For now, the two-year development grant through the Minnesota Department of Public Safety is enough to begin a process that will help children and their families heal.

The SWCC was the only advocacy center in the state to receive the CAC development grant, and according to Wahl, DPS does not fund programs they don’t plan to support in the future. For now, the development grant and some help from other benefactors is filling the center’s financial needs, but Wahl said future needs will depend on the demand for the service.

In the first six months of 2020, Nobles County received 189 child protection reports, with half of those being for neglect and 8 percent being sexual abuse. Since January, the SWCC has provided service to 32 children who have experienced sexual or physical abuse or were at high risk.

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